Join the Indian community in celebrating Diwali, with a 21st century twist, writes Dani Wright.

Diwali (also known as Deepavali) is an ancient Indian festival of light - a celebration of the light that comes after the darkness and of new beginnings.

For the nearly 8 per cent of Auckland's population who identify with an Indian ethnic group, it's a chance to showcase their culture, as well as to find ways to represent themselves within a New Zealand context.

"There are thousands of Diwali festivals around the world, but what's different about the Auckland one is that we absorb Indian cultures from many countries including Fiji, Singapore, South Africa, India, as well as from our locally-born Indian population, who may have been here for several generations," says Eric Ngan, Auckland Diwali Festival's event director since 2012.

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Originally a Hindu festival, Diwali is now also celebrated by non-Hindus. It signifies different things in different areas of India. For example, in Gujarat, the festival honours Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. In north India, it celebrates the god Rama's homecoming to the kingdom of Ayodhya after a 14-year exile. New Zealand has found its own unique way to mark the occasion.

"As a young country we absorb all these cultures and Diwali is a chance to celebrate and share these with non-Indians, as well as to showcase what it is to be a New Zealand Indian in the 21st century," says Ngan.

There are also ways to celebrate Diwali at home, by organising your family to light lamps and candles to symbolise the triumph of light over darkness, wisdom over ignorance and good over evil. For event-goers, though, it's a chance to take in the sumptuous sights, sounds and scents of this joyous celebration. Here are some highlights:

THE SPECTACLE

Performances at the Auckland Diwali Festival are often community ones that are a fusion with other cultures and chosen as a response to being Indian in the modern world.

This year, Kalika Kala Kendra, a romantic folk dance (lavani) company from India will entertain as well as bringing an important message to the main stage. The group was founded by Marathi film star and social activist Rajashree Nagarkar to provide girls in her nomadic community with a livelihood.

"They are great performers, but also carry another theme of challenging boundaries, addressing aspects of the caste society to break through century-old traditions," says Ngan.

The dance group will join more than 800 local performers, including regular festival favourites BAD (Bhangra Auckland Da), Raunak Punjab Dee, Khottey Sikkey Dance Group, the hotly contested Radio Tarana Bollywood Dance Competition and the Indian Weekender Mr and Ms Diwali contest.

There will be art workshops for children, classical music workshops and more, culminating in the fireworks finale on Sunday night.

THE FASHION

Get into the spirit of the season with henna body art, such as one by popular Henna artist Usha Raman (hennatattoos.co.nz), who introduced the art to New Zealand in 1997. Or head to the colourful Roop Darshan (roopdarshan.co.nz) in Mt Roskill or Papatoetoe for a beautiful collection of vibrant fabrics and outfits from the affordable to bespoke and premium brands. There's also jewellery, shoes and opulent shirts with diamond brooches on ties.

"Diwali is a riot of colour and noise, a really joyous celebration and one that's been part of the Indian culture for many thousands of years," say Ngan. "The Auckland Diwali Festival rolls these colourful traditions into a celebration that's also specifically of this place and what it means to be celebrating it here in Auckland."

DIWALI ESSENTIALS

The 16th Auckland Diwali Festival is at Aotea Square and Queen St from midday to 9pm today and tomorrow, with the official opening at 3pm on Saturday. Last year, more than 30,000 people attended the festival. It's free, family-friendly and accessible, visit aucklandnz.com/diwali for more details.

ALTERNATIVE CELEBRATIONS

Enjoy an introduction to yoga and Bollywood dance before sampling delicious Indian snacks and sweets at Anju's Cultural Studio, just opposite Panmure Library. Booking recommended, contact Pranita.Parsad@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz. Saturday October 14, 10.30am-midday.

Head to the Waitakere Central Library (Henderson) for a special storytime to celebrate Diwali with stories, songs, dance, sari dress-ups and bindis. All welcome, but best suited for ages 2 to 7 years. Thursday, October 19. 10.30-11am.